"Sasha Brookner Woman in Business"

Photo by Djeneba Aduayom Photography

“Learning breeds tolerance which sets the paradigm for interacting with people of all cultures in the business world. Making money shouldn’t be prioritized before learning about the world, philosophy, history, gender studies, etc.”  – Sasha Brookner, Owner/Publicist at Helio Public Relations

Tell us about your business.

We are a full service boutique PR firm that specializes in securing clientele visibility within the mediums of TV, Print, Radio and Internet. Our target audience is vast; domestic and international as we work a gamut of genres from fashion, music, film, poetry, art and dance. Our clients have been featured in an infinite array of outlets ranging from ABC’s Good Morning America to Oprah at Home Magazine.

Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?

Business owners have the luxury of being able to control their own movements with much more fluidity than an employee. I can be innovative and creative when it comes to ideas without being forced to run them by an authoritative figure for approval. An owner’s work and success pays off directly and it’s liberating if you can sustain your lifestyle. I came from a long line of female entrepreneurs so it was somewhat hereditary. My mother had her own business her entire life. I saw the freedom she had and her standard of living. I felt it would be disrespectful to the women who came before me if I didn’t at least make an attempt to become self-sufficient. Additionally I’ve always had a problem with male authority and I felt my concepts were revised, augmented or limited under other people’s umbrellas. Most importantly I was often forced to work with clients that I didn’t feel an alignment.

My goal in business was to find an occupational path that felt worthwhile but also where I could obtain leisure. The cost of leisure is expensive but that was very important to me (and my sanity).

What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?

I’m actually predominately inspired by my clients; their artistry in whatever form that takes. I don’t have a particular role model in the field of business per se but have taken bits and pieces from a vast array of executives and journalists that I’ve interacted with over the past decade. I get inspired by the billboard slogan writers of the world and other marketing gurus who take a more think tank-esque approach to sales and promotion. Unfortunately, most of my peers in the PR game often have a tendency to just act as news brokers, simply disseminating information without putting an artistic thinking spin on it. I appreciate ingenuity.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Taking underground grassroots talent and securing them press in unexpected mainstream outlets like French Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Elle, Jay Leno, Oprah, etc. Providing them with marketing tools and campaigns they normally would never have received due to lack of major budgets. On the flipside, we’ve worked with multi-platinum artists and the well-known celebs but I love working with the underdogs, it’s more challenging to strategically implement inventive PR campaigns then working with a major name and simply checking your voicemail to coordinate photo shoots. I wanted to be a tactician, not a secretary. My accomplishments are attached to striving in the face of resistance and how I learned to circumvent those barriers. I love developing stories, which is somewhat of an anomaly for publicists as that’s often left in the hands of journalists. So when I look at our client’s press over the years I see a reflection of our ideas whether it was helping Goapele compose a blog about the Oscar Grant verdict, a feature on Katt Williams in relation to his foster care children or just helping to depict a more accurate image and perception of African dance…we helped shape and give life to these narratives.

What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?

Make sure you receive a liberal arts college education before venturing into the work world. Don’t rush. Learning breeds tolerance which sets the paradigm for interacting with people of all cultures in the business world. Making money shouldn’t be prioritized before learning about the world, philosophy, history, gender studies, etc. After school has taught you “how to think” then figure out what makes you inimitable or why you may be somewhat of an aberration from your peers in the same industry. Capitalize on your differences, forgive yourself for mistakes, think laterally not linearly and look at the world not just thru your own eyes but try to gauge it through the eyes and vantage point of others. If you need something from an individual assess them first before you approach them with requests, figure out what they might be interested in hearing and then tailor, it will prove to have that much more efficacy.

What has been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?

The majority of our clientele we receive are via word of mouth; you have to keep your company name reputable. It may sound rudimentary or old-fashioned but just staying sincere and producing quality results, that’s what sells a company for the long-term, not advertisements. We keep our Website updated and connect with reps and new clients via Facebook, Linkedin, etc.

What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?

You have to be cognizant of whether the relationships you have are long-term and genuine or ephemeral and artificial. In this business some of the people you think are in your corner will stick around simply based on your client roster, and may disappear when they believe you don’t have what they need any longer. It’s a real awakening. Also sometimes it’s intimidating in my field where indie PR firms pop up like Starbucks (often without necessary qualifications) and these publicists are willing to work for half of what you charge one can get exasperated like how can I compete with such cheap mediocrity? But you have to also realize ultimately the execs not doing their jobs have no longevity. I’ve always felt it was better to have only a few clients and no turnover rate then a gigantic artist roster that changes week to week.

Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business?

I subscribe and use companies like MediaBistro , PR Web , iContact, Mastheads.org, etc. to help stay abreast of the latest editors/journalists, disseminate press releases, build templates, one-sheets, etc. They’ve helped me tremendously with staying connected and building presentation. Also staying in tune with editorial calendars and media kits so you’re aware of issue themes when pitching placement. If you’re working with a recording vocalist and the magazine is currently working on their “Relationship Issue” you may want to hold off on you’re pitch if the subsequent month will be their “Music Issue.” We also connect with great journalists, photographers and stylists, it’s important to have these people on your team when creating quality visual and written presentation.

Do you have any new projects coming up? If so, please tell us about it.

We just started working with Lira, a South African singer signed to Sony Music whose having huge success over there and is about to make her debut in the U.S. We work with celebrity fitness trainer Mark Jenkins and multi-platinum hip-hop producer Drumma Boy. We just finished campaigns for a couple independent female soul vocalists including Goapele and Conya Doss as well as two afro-punk singers, Tamar-kali out of Brooklyn and Nikki Lynette out of Chicago. Last year we handled PR for KRS One’s “Stop the Violence Campaign” as well as his book “The Gospel of Hip-Hop.” Just finished a campaign with Barbados reggae artist Rayvon, and working with Thurzday of the Los Angeles rap duo U-N-I who has a unique themed album and documentary coming up called L.A. Riot, a concept project inspired by the 1992 Rodney King riots as well as recent North African uprisings. One of the most inspiring projects we’ve had the opportunity to work was I.S.I.S (Instituting Science in the Schools), a non-profit in conjunction with NASA, Ankh Marketing and Mos Def, working to make science, nature, math and astronomy cool in the urban school system.

What do you do for fun/relaxation?

Photo by Ed Cañas Photography

I take Senegalese and Guinean dance classes in Los Angeles, that’s about the only exercise I find time in my schedule to get. I read a lot; everyone from Gore Vidal and Clarissa Estes to Plato. Funny enough I find Wikipedia very relaxing, I literally just sit there fascinated, clicking on link after link but then before I know it 4 hours goes by so I have to be vigilant because I get sidetracked from work.

What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year?

To continue working with really interesting and inspiring clients. Honestly PR is just an ongoing motif of the same job but with different people, I don’t expect a huge paradigm shift anytime soon. I would like to branch out and work with more international singers and authors. I’ve never worked with a heavy metal artist so I think that would be kinda cool. I want our client list to remain as diversified as possible.

You want to write a book on “the effect various religious organizations have had on women throughout antiquity.” I just wrote a blog about Feminism in Islam. But truthfully I don’t ever foresee myself having enough time to actually follow through with it. Writing outside of a press release is a luxury.

What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you?

Our official website is  www.heliopr.com. I don’t Tweet or Myspace but I’m on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/sasha.brookner